Although the New York Rangers’ ECHL team, the Charlotte Checkers, have had some trouble consistently winning their games this season, the Rangers prospects on the team have generally performed very well.
So far this season, three of the Rangers’ first picks have played for Charlotte. Lee Falardeau (2nd Round, 33rd overall, 2002 entry draft), who played for the Checkers almost all of last year (55 games, 18 goals, 17 assists), started this year as a Charlotte Checker as well. After just the first game of the Checkers 2005-06 season, Derek Wilkinson, Charlotte’s head coach, predicted, however, that Falardeau’s tenure with the team would be short-lived. He was correct. On Nov. 8, after just six games with the Checkers, Falardeau was called up to Hartford. While with Charlotte this season, the 22-year-old had accumulated 4 points (2 goals, 2 assists). Since his promotion to Hartford, Falardeau has garnered six points (2 goals, 4 assists) in 14 games.
After a disappointing NY Rangers training camp, Hugh Jessiman (1st Round, 12th overall, 2003 entry draft) began the year with the Hartford Wolf Pack of the AHL. Jessiman, who did not play most of last year because of a right ankle injury, played in seven games for Hartford before being reassigned to Charlotte. Since coming to Charlotte, Jessiman missed two games with a knee injury, but he has come back showing some of the offensive skills that the Rangers saw in him when they picked him in the first round of the 2003 draft. In 14 games with Charlotte this season, Jessiman has 14 points (10 goals, 4 assists). In the three games since he has returned from his knee injury, Jessiman has scored four goals, including two on the power play and one shorthanded. According to Wilkinson, Jessiman has made great improvement in his positioning without the puck, and will not be in the league long if he continues to play as he has recently.
This past week, the Rangers sent goalie Al Montoya (1st Round, 6th overall, 2004 entry draft) to Charlotte for reconditioning. Montoya had missed 12 games after breaking a finger on his catching hand. The 20-year-old former University of Michigan Wolverine is being returned to the Hartford Wolfpack today, but over the weekend, he played two games with the Checkers. During that time, he had 56 saves and allowed 8 goals against (.875 save percentage). While in net for Hartford, Montoya has posted a .929 save percentage in six games.
Chris Holt (6th Round, 180 overall, 2003 entry draft), another one of the Rangers’ goalie prospects, has also seen time in net for the Checkers. Holt, who has played in Charlotte, Hartford, and New York this season, is in his first year of professional hockey. Out of the University of Nebraska-Omaha, Holt has played three games with the Checkers, making 101 saves, allowing 11 goals against, and posting a .902 save percentage. Holt has a .876 save percentage while playing seven games in net for the WolfPack.
Rory Rawlyk was signed by the Rangers in 2001 as a free agent. The 22-year-old offensive defenseman is in his third year in Charlotte. After a very good season last year, in which he posted 30 points in 68 games (9 goals, 21 assists), he has come back even stronger for this campaign. Currently, Rawlyk has garnered 18 points (8 goals, 10 assists) in 20 games. He is second in the ECHL in power play goals, and fourth in the ECHL for points by defensemen and second in goals by defensemen. Just as important for Rawlyk, he is meeting his goal of taking care of his own end. Wilkinson is very pleased with his feisty, agitating style of play, in which Rawlyk is always looking for the takeaway, but not taking penalties. According to Rawlyk, he is playing hard every game, putting up points, helping his team out in every way he can, and hoping to get another shot to move up.
When Wilkinson is asked about left winger Juris Stals (9th Round, 269 overall, 2001 entry draft), he talks about Stals’ heavy shot, which he thinks maybe the best shot in the ECHL. Last year Stals played 54games in Charlotte and registered 30 points (19 goals, 11 assists). This year his production is similar, i.e., in 20 games, Stals has accumulated 14 points (6 goals, 8 assists). A third-year pro in Charlotte, Stals’ advancement is uncertain at this time.
The Rangers’ acquired the rights to Rick Kozak (3rd Round, 95 overall, 2003 entry draft) from Philadelphia on March 8, 2004. This is Kozak’s first professional season. In 51 games last year for the Kamloops Blazers and Prince Albert Raiders of the WHL, Kozak registered 27 points (14 goals, 13 assists). Because Kozak has been injured for most of this season and is not expected to return until some time in February, the right winger has only played in seven games for the Checkers, with three assists.
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